More than 120 people, most of them students, have been killed and 122 injured in a Taliban seizure of a military-run school in the city of Peshawar, Pakistan, according to provincial authorities.
The numbers of dead and injured may still rise as the casualties of the assault are counted.
Some 500 students and teachers were in the Army Public School on Warsak Road at the time of the attack. Pakistan’s military said most of the civilians escaped, but some had been taken hostage by the assailants.
According to media reports, as many as 10 militants dressed in Pakistani military uniforms entered the school compound on Tuesday at around noon. They torched a car at the site and proceeded with a raid on the facility.
The Pakistani Army responded to the emergency, dispatching security forces to cordon off the area and sending military helicopters for surveillance. A commando force arrived at the site.
In the ensuing battle with Pakistani security forces, three militants reportedly were killed. One of them is said to have detonated a suicide vest he was wearing.
At least one Pakistani soldier was reported killed in the gun battle, which seriously damaged the school building.
As clashes inside the school continued, some of the hostages were still believed to be held by the militants, Inayatullah Khan, the provincial minister for local government, said, citing the military.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack on the school a national tragedy and said he would personally supervise the army operation in Peshawar.
“I can’t stay back in Islamabad. This is a national tragedy unleashed by savages. These were my kids,” he said in a statement.
The provincial government declared three days of mourning over the tragedy.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but claimed it was not targeting the pupils.
“Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target army personnel,” Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani told Reuters.
The militants, however, see older students at the school as legitimate targets for their attack.
The Taliban said it staged the attack in retaliation for the Pakistani Army’s ongoing operations in the North Waziristan tribal area. It said it had targeted the school because “because the government is targeting our families and females” in the military operations.
“We want them to feel the pain,” Khorasani said.